Symphonia Wines: A lasting legacy
Peter Read was already planting the trending alternative varieties of today in the 1980s. Suzanne and Sophie Evans continue to champion these cool-climate, left-of-field varieties with the help of Lilian Carter under Symphonia Wines.
Symphonia Wines was established by a King Valley legend called Peter Read in 1981. At a time when Shiraz, Cabernet, and Chardonnay were just about the only varieties grown in Australia, he started planting cool-climate wines from around the world. Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy, Saperavi from Georgia, Tannat and Petit Manseng from the Pyrenees region of France, Tempranillo from Northern Spain, and Albariño from North Western Spain were some of the styles he pioneered in Australia.
Using a scientific approach, he carefully matched each variety with the climate in the King Valley. His foresight paid off and it didn’t take long for his vineyard to become known for exceptional wines requiring minimal intervention.
In 2005 the Evans family took over the property. The dynamic mother-daughter duo, Suzanne and Sophie Evans, were in love with the King Valley and ready to continue his legacy. They also brought on board a talented winemaker, Lilian Carter.
Lilian has been surrounded by winemaking her entire life. Her school holidays were spent supporting the family business in the vineyard. She could easily be found during yield estimation, desuckering, and driving chaser bins. The work may not have been glamorous, but she loved being outside. While she briefly contemplated a career in landscape architecture or agricultural science, Lilian ultimately chose to stay in the wine industry.
According to Lilian, “You get to travel, meet great people, and influence the entire value chain, from logistics to management, manufacturing, and hospitality. It’s scientific and creative.”
After working with brands such as Orlando and Domain Chandon, she was ready to work her magic at the picturesque Symphonia Wines site.
Symphonia's minimal intervention approach
I love that Symphonia Wines has just one exceptional site with so many different varieties. It’s fascinating to compare the varietal differences and hold them in a light framework with minimal interference.
Lilian is always curious to see how the vineyard will express itself. She also doesn’t like wine to be too heavy or overwhelming.
“The wines I like to drink are more subtle and that would be the case for most winemakers, because your palate evolves to appreciate nuance. It’s fun to play with the varied flavours and aromas that come from different sites. However, I love that Symphonia Wines has just one exceptional site with so many different varieties. It’s fascinating to compare the varietal differences and hold them in a light framework with minimal interference.”
The vineyard is Lilian’s symphony orchestra and she gets to help each variety reach its full potential.
The harvest rush
Lilian also loves the adrenaline rush of harvest time. “You don’t get too much sleep and you’re just excited to see what will be produced in the next month or so. You’re also nervous about all of the things that can go wrong in that short period of time. Seasonal challenges alone can create big complications. There are lots of phone calls to make sure all of the logistics are lined up. You need to make sure that the harvest is booked in, the chaser bins have arrived, and the winery is ready to process the grapes. Then you’re checking in on the ferments, tasting them, and making sure that the wines are behaving themselves. There is so much logistics, tasting, and planning. Once the wine is in the bottle, you can start to breathe a sigh of relief.”
The Symphonia team typically starts harvesting in early February, starting with Chardonnay for sparkling wine. It finishes with its late-blooming red varieties, Saperavi, and Petit Manseng around Easter time. It can be a drawn-out process depending on the mix of varieties being grown, and Symphonia has even turned their Petit Manseng into a sweet wine, harvesting it later in May.
Cool climate wines of the world
Conscious that we often fall back on a common (and at times limited) language to describe the flavours and aromas in wine, Lilian chooses her words to describe Symphonia’s wines wisely. After all the work is done, she believes their cool-climate wines are lively, energetic, and subtle.
Throughout her time in the industry, Lilian has loved watching Australians come around to alternative varieties that are better suited to our climate and soils. People are starting to look for food-friendly and subtle wines, and she enjoys interpreting interesting varieties for them.
Her life at Symphonia Wines is picturesque. “It’s hard not to feel lucky to work in such a beautiful place in the world.”
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